Matthew Ellis: Staffordshire Police 'just about managing' after cuts

Matthew Ellis has just broken rank.

Police officers patrol, at Greengate Street, Stafford after the terror attack in Manchester
Police officers patrol, at Greengate Street, Stafford after the terror attack in Manchester

For four years he has appeared to almost relish the challenge of overseeing and transforming policing in Staffordshire while managing unprecedented spending cuts.

As the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Staffordshire, he has repeatedly told us: “It’s not about the amount of money we spend, but how we spend it.”

But now he could be on a collision course with his own party, calling for a ‘conversation’ with government about police funding.

Whether intentional or not, he uses the term ‘just about managing’ – shortened to ‘Jam’ in Westminster and Whitehall to describe families struggling to get by – to assess his own force’s capability.

“I have been content for three-and-a-half years that we could just about manage,” he said.

“It was very tight. We have spent money better, the way we have asked the police to do things differently has just about worked.

Now with the threats from international terrorism and the need for the police to have more resources, I think it is the time to have that conversation.”

Like constabularies across the country, Staffordshire has seen the axe wielded to its funding.

The force’s day-to-day spending power has decreased from £190m in 2010/11 to £181m this year – or around £30m less in real terms.

And officer numbers have gone down from 2,161in 2010 to 1,626 in March this year.

However, latest Home Office figures show 94.4 per cent of officers are now on frontline duties, compared to 92 per cent in 2010.

Matthew Ellis

Crime rocketed by the steepest amount in a decade nationally over the last 12 months and by 14 per cent in Staffordshire.

Mr Ellis said: “I have already talked about taking the cap off the precept, so if I think we need more money to support certain services I can have a debate with the people I represent rather than go cap in hand to central government.

“I would rather have the freedom to raise a little bit more on the local taxes. I do think government need to look at bolstering counter terrorism funding.

"Between us, and because of the accountability that police and crime commissioners bring, I want to have a discussion with my electorate and say this is my plan, this is what I want to do.

“We have protected neighbourhood policing in Staffordshire. There are a handful more officers in neighbourhood policing than there were when I started, but their demands are very much greater than they were in the past.

"I am going to say for the first time it is time we need more investment rather than disinvestment.”

This week saw the launch of Space – an activities scheme for teenagers in Staffordshire during the school holidays co-ordinated by Mr Ellis’s team.

It first ran in the 1980s and 90s and was resurrected by Mr Ellis two years ago. Around 13,000 youngsters across the county will take part over the summer as part of building ‘resilient communities’.

Mr Ellis said: “I have always thought that strong, resilient communities that care about each other are important in driving down crime and solving social problems.

“If public services spend money more efficiently then it goes further than just the ‘heavy end’ of services – like counter terrorism – which are costly. The modern version of Space is not run by the police any more. I’ve asked for help from local authorities and voluntary groups to get it off the ground. This is the third year of the relaunch, it’s bigger and better.

Last year 13,000 spaces were filled and the point of it is to be part of the fabric of our society and to make sure police officers, PCSOs, and firefighters are seen as friends or friendly people rather than people to be fearful of.”

And Mr Ellis says it could already be delivering results.

“Last year saw the first small reduction in anti-social behaviour in Staffordshire and Stoke over the two months we did Space,” he said.

But Mr Ellis is clear that he believes more officers on the beat does make a difference.

He said: “I want to get back to seeing more police officers out and about rather than running between pillar and post to get things done."

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